Five Simple Suggestions for New Supervisors
It is very common for a laboratory professional who is promoted from the ranks into management to simply stand there like a deer in the headlights. Now what? Moving from the bench to supervisor means a laboratorian will have to prepare reports, attend meetings and generally deal with the sticky (and often thankless) job of managing people. What's even more uncomfortable is that individuals who were peers are now subordinates.
Leadership is essentially about articulating a vision/goal and then influencing and motivating employees towards the achievement of that goal. I find that the "hard" skills of budgeting, cost control, growth, meeting regulatory standards and so on will be taught or mentored by someone. Although they appear scary, they tend to be hard-wired in the organization and are fairly well spelled out. It's the "soft" skills that are difficult to learn-in fact even to define and to prioritize.
I always advise new managers (at any level, from supervisor up to the C-suite) that if they hit the ground running by managing in the way they like to be managed they will be ahead of the curve. For example there are five very simple practices that pay huge dividends.
Get to know your employees. This starts with learning names and addressing an employee by name whenever possible. One of my pet peeves is having someone misspell my name for example. It's just a simple four letter word after all! Gestures as simple as remembering a birthday, asking about a family member in the military or a child away at college go a far way in sending the message that you care about the employee.
Do not micromanage. Entire books have been written about this practice. Provide goals, resources, guidance and feedback, but let employees do what they do best; and often much better than you ever could. Micromanagement is all about the supervisor's delusion that there is only one method and the world will fall apart if someone deviates from that pattern. Employees will have higher morale if you avoid looking over their shoulder.
Manage by walking around. This is a leadership principle that has gone out of fashion because some touted it as a fad. Like anything else, if used as just one part of a bigger strategy it works wonders. Talk to employees about experiences, challenges, changes they would like to see in their workplace. Ask about barriers to accomplishing their work-related goals. A simple quick fix will make you an instant hero. Telling employees honestly that something is unrealistic at this time is a better strategy than avoidance or benign neglect.
Tell employees what's in it for them. Faced with any tough change employees want to know why is it mandatory, and how can they get some benefit. A good manager will never blame superiors for a difficult decision; they will empathize with employees' discomfort, but will quickly move on to help strategizing how to implement that change. It is also important to tell employees how a contemplated change as well as their daily tasks contribute towards reaching organizational goals. Discuss the big picture; tell them they are an essential part of the success of the organization. If the organization succeeds, they succeed.
Say thanks. It is a pity that new managers learn how to perform corrective action before they learn how to give positive feedback. Tell employees thanks often. Give more bouquets than brickbats. Recognition does not have to be complicated or expensive. Yes, they are getting paid to do their job; but telling them they are doing a good job is motivation you cannot pay for. Publicly recognize extraordinary service.
Soft skills recognize that every individual needs to be validated, recognized and made to feel important. It's a very simple formula, but it works. The hard skills and difficult decisions will be much easier if you simply follow these simple suggestions from day one.